One of my favorite things about gardening is the creative opportunity to construct something when the need arises. While cleaning out a storage closet at work I came across an aquarium and an aquarium light.
Now, my job involves working with fish so this equipment is useful but this aquarium is missing a side panel: not very useful for holding water anymore. This particular aquarium light is not used in the lab anymore either so these items were destined for the Auspackraum, the recycling / trash room within the University.
But an idea struck me: a mini seedling greenhouse for my office desk! I have the space, so why not? The nice thing about this particular set up is the easy access of the plants from the side, since the panel is off: this way I don’t have to remove the light every time seedlings need to be checked, which is daily.
Disclaimer: I don’t recommend you attempt popping off an aquarium panel as it’s potentially dangerous due to shattering. It was a lucky accident that this panel popped off the seams without breaking or creating any sharp edges.
The first step is to check the bulb to see if it contains the spectrum plants need to grow. It’s a T8 which is good. Although I might replace it anyway: lights tend to lose their strength over time and since I do not know how long the bulb was used, it’s a safe bet it’s old enough not to be at full strength anymore. For now, I’ll watch how the first batch of seedlings grow as an experiment until I acquire a new bulb.
Next find something to raise your seedlings close to the light. Seedlings need to be close in order to prevent weak leggy plants. I’m currently using one box but hope to replace it with disposable glove boxes to act as blocks, so as the seedlings grow I can lower them away from the light.
Find a waterproof tray that fits inside the aquarium. Ideally, use something with higher sides like a seed tray but I don’t have any extra and found an old cafeteria tray instead.
Finally, plug the light into a timer and your desktop greenhouse is ready!
When watering I recommend taking the tray out and doing it on the floor. This will prevent water spill accidents from getting on any electronics on the desk or neighboring desks. This also allows you to inspect everyone and make sure everything is evenly watered. Same goes when using a spray bottle.
Keeping your eyes open to opportunities when they present themselves allows you to come up with creative, useful solutions and prevent items from going to landfill. By repurposing the aquarium it was prevented from going to landfill and uses the second step in “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Look around your office garbage room, secondhand shops, yard sales or friends’ decluttering. Is there a plastic bin which could be converted to a grow box? You could leave it intact and attach a grow light to the lid and or make a side cut out for easy access while it sits on your desk. Bonus if it’s a white or light colored box as it allows light to bounce all around for the plants. If it’s dark line the inside with aluminium foil to reflect light.
Not only will you find joy growing seedlings on your desk but so will your co-workers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come in and a colleague excitedly points out a new seedling poking through the soil.
They are an interesting and easy addition to the workspace to casually watch throughout the work week.